Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.
“Practice good list hygiene.” That’s common email marketing advice many of us hear regularly. It means to do things like:
- Remove hard bounces after one try;
- Remove soft bounces after several tries;
- Remove subscribers who have been inactive for 12 months.
Email marketers practice good list hygiene because it improves deliverability rates, and because it trims the fat from email lists. It also improves open rates and click rates. These are all good things.
Deleting One-third of the List
Sometimes a marketer will look at an audit of its email program, and see the recommendation to remove the inactive subscribers. The inactive subscribers may make up one-third of the list.
To the marketer, this sometimes feels more like amputation than hygiene.
Rather than removing one-third of the subscribers, the marketer decides to launch an activation campaign.
What Is an Email Activation Campaign?
Email activation programs are what they sound like. They are sustained efforts to re-engage with subscribers who no longer respond to emails, but have not yet unsubscribed.
Email activation programs come in a variety of flavors, but they can be broken down into three typical types of re-engagement offers sent at three different times.
Types of Re-engagement Offers
- Discount on next purchase. This is the most common type of re-engagement effort. The discounts and offers tend to get more generous the longer a subscriber has been inactive. For example, a subscriber who just placed an order might get 10 percent off his or her next order. A subscriber who had not opened an email in three months might get 30 percent off his order.
- Free gift. Software platforms or other downloadable products often offer free gifts. Physical goods retailers sometimes offer free gift boxes, too.
- Surveys. These can be tied with a free gift, or with a discount on the next purchase. For example, “Fill out our short survey and get 35 percent off your next order.” The idea here is that if you can’t get them to buy from you, at least you can get them to tell you what’s going on, and maybe tell you why they’ve not buying. Surveys are used far less than the first two types of re-engagement offers.
Timing of Re-engagement Offers
- Short term. These are sent even before a subscriber is technically considered lapsed. The classic example is the 10 percent off your next order coupon that’s sent in a shipping box or in a confirmation email.
If a 10 percent offer isn’t working well enough, try free shipping, or 15 percent off the next order. Many marketing gurus consider 10 percent off a weak offer. People are more likely to get excited about 15 or 20 percent, though that much of a discount may harm your financial results.
- Mid-term. These messages are sent just before subscribers move into the lapsed category. For some, that’s when they haven’t opened or clicked on an email in three months or more. This is when the juicer discounts typically start to show up — 25 or 30 percent off.
If offering discounts isn’t getting anywhere, consider a contest or a sweepstakes. This can be on Facebook or on your site, and it can be a simple “enter to win” offer, or a participatory contest (for example, submit a photograph of you in our sporting gear for a chance to win $1,000 in merchandise). Leveraging people’s innate urge to share can sometimes work better than offering just another discount. Partnering with a non-profit to support a cause your audience supports might be another tactic to try.
- Long term (aka, the last ditch effort). These are the messages sent after a subscriber has been inactive, typically, for six months or more. Anything is worth a try with this group, but the bolder the offer, the better.
How Well do they Work?
Here’s the bad news: Even a good re-engagement campaign typically gets back less than 10 percent of subscribers. Average results are more in the ballpark of 5 to 6 percent. CNET recently shared a re-engagement campaign it did with subscribers who had been inactive for four months or more.
That campaign, which included two emails for a sweepstakes, produced only 8.33 percent of the lapsed subscribers back. The emails were split-tested, and the sweepstakes prizes were two tickets to the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, with round-trip airfare for three nights at the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino. CNET was also mailing to a well-segmented list that had come to expect relevant, high-quality content from a major brand. It was set up to do well from the start.
For some businesses, even a “great” re-engagement rate of 8 percent may not be worthwhile, given the effort required. It depends on how much a subscriber is worth to you, how big your list is, and what kind of resources you have to work with.
To recapture 8 percent of 10,000 subscribers means 800 reclaimed subscribers. If that seems like too small a group to worry about, you can just keep them on your list, wait a few months, and do a re-engagement campaign later, or even annually.